Surviving an Environs that isn't You (long, sorry. Advice wanted!)

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Surviving an Environs that isn't You (long, sorry. Advice wanted!) Empty Surviving an Environs that isn't You (long, sorry. Advice wanted!)

Post by InkAndComb on Tue Mar 31, 2015 2:00 pm

Hey there! I've been sort of away for awhile dealing with family and life events, and I've been struggling especially with where I live.

I moved from a very liberal, very active, very cultural part of the state (for the midwest anyways) to a small town with very conservative, old school family values.  There is nothing wrong with this, HOWEVER:

-I am 25.  The town is pretty small and around the college I attend, so most people are only up to 21-22, and this is often their first "break out" from their own small towns (to put in perspective: My highschool had 2000 and there were a few with the same amount in my home town.  Here, most people went to a school with 10-60 people :I and the most was around 200 kids).  So, I'm older and an alternative student.

-I am not religious.  I don't have any problems with it, but I can't bond over faith because I don't believe AND I am not very staunch about atheism either.  But people here are very into it; I've had friends try to invite me to church and stuff.  Not my scene AT ALL, and I'm not interested.  

-I am very liberal; I'm not obnoxious about it but I'm a Social Work major, which means I hear a lot of people's unwarranted opinions on foodstamps, welfare, etc.  I'm not afraid to say my piece but it doesn't make me very popular if I do...  Lots of homophobia and stuff as well.

-I have travelled a lot and seen many places; most people here haven't been out of town or even out of the state.  This is fine, except I feel like everyone is getting their experiences in now and I don't have any peers to talk to about having already done things. This also leads to a lot of cultural ignorance, which is frustrating to hear/deal with. (Lots of stereotypical old white people especially)

-Most people I know have never been in a relationship, or are younger, or are still very...vanilla, lifestyle wise.  For example, we had a movie marathon and I thought it would be ok to bring a few mikes (we are all of age at least).  When iarrived, my friends were awkward and informed me they weren't planning on getting "wasted" (which I can't do anyways due to my meds, I only drink 2 drinks in a night if at all).  I felt really uncomfortable and told them I didn't have to drink or anything, and they were like "Well, we just don't think we need to drink to have fun" (This is after we'd had a ladies night one time too, so I knew people there drank, Ijust didn't know they set aside special times and never drank otherwise. I'm ok with having a beer at the end of the day. Lesson learned though). Most people I know have also not had sex.  This makes me feel weird. (not that it's not ok, but that I can't talk about anything without "Well I wouldn't know" or "well I'm not planning on that til marriage" etc).

-Many people my age are getting married and having children.  I am child-free by choice and am NOT interested in kids, at all, and am going through a sterilization process.  This has...made some of my friends concerned.  I have a lot of mental health issues and I'm adopted myself so it doesn't seem like a doom situation to me, but I've gotten bingo'd a few times by people insisting I should settle down and be a mom.

I guess I'm asking, how do people survive this ?I'm here for like, 2 more years ,and I feel like I'm going nuts.  I'm more a city girl at heart and I've been to many places where I feel like I'd fit in, culturally, but here I feel like I stick out and I'm just not most people's cup of tea.  I try to be active in the community but it's sort of a lost cause in many aspects; I do plan to move once I graduate, but in the mean time, what can I do to find people more like me?

Has anyone else had the issue of being in a small town or a town not representative of their selves? What did you do to survive? How can I remind myself that I'm not crazy, I'm just in a conservative/different mindset of people living here?
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Post by eselle28 on Tue Mar 31, 2015 2:29 pm

This sounds familiar to me, except that I'm older than you are and it sounds like my small town isn't quite so small! These are some things that have been helpful to me at various times:

- Good scripts. This is just necessary to get through a lot of interactions. My suggestion for the church invitations would be a polite but flat no to church invitations without any explanations (many religious people genuinely feel their events are welcoming toward and potentially enjoyable for those who don't share their faith and will try to persuade you if you provide reasons not to come). When it comes to choices about marriage and children, you might want to try refusing to talk about either subject with your new friends at all and shutting down the conversation if they inquire.

- Limited friendships. Most people benefit from a little regular socialization, provided the group isn't absolutely toxic. It sounds like these friends aren't necessarily your people, but that they're not unkind and may provide some reasons to get out of the house. I've found that I've been able to be a little bit more satisfied with relationships like these if I reduced my expectations for them to the level of meshing that we were able to do with each other.

- Supplementing with old friendships. Are you still in touch with people from your old town? If there are people you're on good terms with, you might want to make an effort to regularly email or call them. You may need this more than they do and may have to make the bigger effort to keep up contact, but I've found it's worth it. When it's really necessary for me to interact with people who aren't like my community members and nothing else works, I seek out purely online folks for a reminder that not everyone feels the way the people physically closest to me do.

- Keep an eye out for fellow sufferers. This doesn't always happen - it took a couple years for it to work for me - but I eventually found people whose ideals or lifestyles were closer to mine. They weren't necessarily always people who I would have immediately identified as potential friends, though. Some are a bit older or are parents, one lives in a town an hour away, etc. Since you mentioned politics, you might want to check out your school or town's Democratic Party meetings, even if you identify further left than that. You'll probably be one of the younger people there, but it's at least a reminder that you don't live in a monolith and may reveal something you didn't know about random people who you see at the store occasionally. If you have gas money, you may also want to occasionally explore events in surrounding towns. Sometimes not every small town is alike, and it may be that a different one has a little hipster enclave of people who'd be compatible. In my town, they hang out at the bookstore and participate in community theater whether they're talented or not, but the next town over they're all into homebrewing and organic gardening and hang out at the farmer's market. It sounds like you may already do some of these things to some extent, but I thought it was at least worth writing them down in case anyone else is in the same position.

- If you can, escape for a bit. I initially tried to take long, expensive vacations when I first moved here, but I actually found it was more helpful to me to take little weekend trips on a more frequent basis. Sometimes just being away for a couple of days lets me go back with a refreshed and more positive attitude.

- Give yourself permission to be sad sometimes. This isn't your ideal. It's okay that it's not your ideal, even if it makes other people happy and it's in service of your goals. Sometimes owning feeling sad and lonely and frustrated is better than trying to always put on a happy face.
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Post by Enail on Tue Mar 31, 2015 2:49 pm

I've only got short-term experiences with this, so I don't have much to add, but I want to second Eselle's advice of keeping an eye out for people who don't immediately ping as potential friends but are 'fellow sufferers.' Different age groups is one that I've found especially useful when I've been in those sorts of situations.  

You might also want to keep an eye out for signalling, subtle cues from people that they don't align in some way with local norms:  people who are lgbtq and sometimes even ones who are not but want to quietly indicate that they're lgbtq-friendly will tend to avoid pronouns when talking about partners, dates or crushes.  If you're straight and used to being in fairly queer-positive areas, it might be a lot more subtle than you'd expect. Atheists and people from religions less well accepted locally may do a lot of neutral 'hmm'ing when religion comes up or talk vaguely around holiday or Sunday plans. Even with interests, vague talk-arounds or unusually neutral phrasing can be a cue - I think in general, watching for what people don't say is a good way to spot stealth outsiders.
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Post by Wondering on Tue Mar 31, 2015 5:13 pm

I'd suggest also seeing if there are any grad students you might click with, from any discipline. Grad students usually went to another school for undergrad and are older than undergrads, so you might have more in common with some of them.

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Post by InkAndComb on Tue Mar 31, 2015 8:07 pm

Thank you all for the suggestions! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's gone through this. I wish there was some sort of survival manual.

I never thought about visiting a nearby town, that's something I'll have to look into. I think I'll also start a fund for going back home; it's a 2 hour drive but mother of all things that are soft and furry, I need it Sad

I haven't thought about checking out the local democrat org, def going to look into that as well! When it comes to finding little niches like the brewers and farmers markets, does everyone just sort of...show up to local events? Should I do research?

I've started/made friends with older people at bars here, which I think is funny. I think I should start doing evening visits again; the 5pm crowd here seems to be incredibly mellow. I met a woman from an old scooter gang (I had no idea they had those).

I do think it's a good idea to reach out to people back home too; I think that with a few phone calls they might be down to reinitiate contact on the regular. Or I hope so anyways.

I honestly never thought I'd be in this position, not because I never thought I'd move but because I'd assumed the place I'd come from was typical (such a newbie-college mistake Sad ).

I do think I need to accept that the nice friends who don't mesh super well ideologically are still good occasional company. I think I was so excited to have female friends that I assumed we'd all be busom buddies; I never really thought I'd get on well with people who wouldn't share the same personal beliefs. Being an adult is hard :/

Does anyone have good resources for scripts? I usually visit Capt. Awk but I'm wondering if there are other sites with them too? I tend to get caught up in defending or justifying or explaining my rationale due to anxiety (though I'm working on it!), and saying "no" is usually followed by "why not" Sad
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Post by rj3 on Tue Mar 31, 2015 8:48 pm

I would add that you might want to try something that's popular where you live and see if you like it.

I can sense a bit of an attitude of superiority toward the locals due to your travel and their lifestyles, which bore you. Not everybody can afford to travel! But that doesn't mean that you can't find something in common with at least a few people if you reach out.

Do you have an interest in outdoor pursuits, from fishing to restoring hiking trails? Do people volunteer? Does the political party of your choice have local candidates ? Sounds like they may need you! Bar trivia?

You'll save yourself a lot of loneliness if you don't think of yourself as some sort of alien on a strange planet. Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. There are lots of good, friendly, reliable people around you and I'm pretty sure you speak the language. Learn more about them.

This isn't to take away from what others have said. It's important to keep in touch with old friends and a weekend out of town can really re-set your attitude.

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Post by eselle28 on Tue Mar 31, 2015 9:10 pm

InkAndComb wrote:
I never thought about visiting a nearby town, that's something I'll have to look into.  I think I'll also start a fund for going back home; it's a 2 hour drive but mother of all things that are soft and furry,  I need it Sad

I haven't thought about checking out the local democrat org, def going to look into that as well! When it comes to finding little niches like the brewers and farmers markets, does everyone just sort of...show up to local events? Should I do research?

Going to other nearby towns is kind of a way of life in smaller communities! It at least gives you more resources. And that fund definitely sounds like a good idea!

I would definitely do some research. The events section of the online edition of the local paper (and maybe the papers of communities nearby that are a reasonable distance and that seem like decent prospects) and any free newspapers your community has (even if they're conventional ones rather than marketed as alternative) are good resources, and I've found some things just by popping the name of my town into Facebook and seeing what groups come up. If you have a dull couple of hours someday, you might also want to check out the bulletin boards at any coffee shops, libraries, book stores, or other cultural institutions. Basically, you might want to think of this as a project, and as one that's a bit long term in nature.

The Democrats will be more than happy to just have you show up at the next party meeting, and if you run into some kind of artsy organization that interests you and you have some extra time, you may want to send an email to the contact person letting them know you'd be happy to help out if they ever need any extra people to help out at their events. (Artsy organizations always need people to set up equipment/send out emails/take tickets and especially prize young volunteers.) For things like the farmer's market or a craft brewfest, those relationships build more slowly and informally, so I'd suggest just showing up and seeing if you can make some conversation with people there. It's not the fastest way to meet people, but it is a good way to hear about other resources (I found my book club through the woman I buy homemade jam from). Obviously not everyone at these events might be your sort of person, but it's sometimes good to check them out and see if that's where your local group of people who aren't into the local culture are found.

Oh, and a strong endorsement of Enail's observations about how to locate other outsiders in a crowd. I haven't thought about it so carefully in the past, but what she wrote is basically setting out some things I think I picked up on in the people I have connected best to here before we got a chance to get to know each other really well one on one. Also, to the extent you might ever speak up for a controversial belief in a crowd, sometimes it's worth glancing around after saying something and seeing what people's reactions are. Someone who was squirming before you spoke and who looks relieved after might have been debating whether to say something themselves.

I've started/made friends with older people at bars here, which I think is funny.  I think I should start doing evening visits again; the 5pm crowd here seems to be incredibly mellow.  I met a woman from an old scooter gang (I had no idea they had those).

Whoa, neither did I. That sounds pretty awesome, actually. Hey, it's a good sign that there are at least some cool people where you live, right? If you met some people whose company you enjoyed there, you should definitely do that again.

Enail mentioned this more explicitly, but I'll second her statement that some of the cool people I've found in my small town were quite a bit older than me. I'm not one of those "a reason for everything" people, but to the extent that living here has provided something positive in addition to being sometimes unhappy and stressful, I am glad that I learned that a woman who's 20 years my senior or who's my age but the mother of very young children might be someone I can form a friendship with, even if we're not buddies in quite the same way some of my other friends are.

Does anyone have good resources for scripts? I usually visit Capt. Awk but I'm wondering if there are other sites with them too? I tend to get caught up in defending or justifying or explaining my rationale due to anxiety (though I'm working on it!), and saying "no" is usually followed by "why not" Sad

That's the first place I encountered the idea, so sorry, I haven't seen it elsewhere. Anyone else? I can give you mine, though your needs and circumstances might be a bit different, especially for the kids scripts.

"Oh, thanks for the invitation, but I don't attend church. I'm looking forward to seeing you Tuesday night, though!" "I think religion is a really personal subject, and I really don't like talking about it." "No, it's really personal for me." "Yeah, sorry, that's just too personal. Can we change the subject?" "Like I said, just too personal. Looking forward to Tuesday though."

"No, I appreciate you thinking of me, but I don't go to church." "I just don't." "It's not my thing." "Thanks, but no." (icy glare) "Hey, thanks for engaging in [whatever required interaction brought me into contact with this irritating person], but I have to go now."

"No, I'm not interested in having children." "I feel pretty fulfilled being an aunt." "No, it's never been something that was very appealing to me." "People change their minds about lots of things. I feel good about this decision though." "Like I said, I feel good about this decision. I need to head out now, but I'll see you Friday to watch movies."

"Oh, wow, that's a really personal question." "Like I said, that's personal." (icy glare) "Do you go around asking everyone about their medical issues and their sex lives?"

"Guys, why so much focus on what my uterus is up to? It's weird and you're being kind of creepy." "No, seriously, Friend, how's your uterus doing these days? We haven't had a status update recently."
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